On fantasy football draft day, your goal is to find value. You need players who far outperform their average draft positions - guys who you pay little for, but end up producing like starters.
But sometimes it's not just about discovering individual players who will perform well versus their cost. Rather, it's to recognize NFLers who are overvalued, making it easier to find and select valuable assets in your draft.
The list below, created by numberFire football writers, should help weed out some of the goofy costs in fantasy football this year. We can't say we didn't warn you.
T.Y. Hilton, WR, Indianapolis Colts
By JJ Zachariason
Through the first seven weeks of 2013, T.Y. Hilton was averaging 3.8 receptions, a little over 58 yards and 0.29 touchdowns per game. He was the 24th-most targeted receiver in football (55), and ranked 34th among all wideouts in Reception Net Expected Points (NEP). Not bad for a sophomore pass-catcher, but after a rookie campaign that saw five touchdowns over his final seven games, Hilton's 2013 start was rather uninspiring.
An unfortunate season-ending injury to Reggie Wayne changed that, as Hilton became the focal point in the Colts offense. Over the next two games following Wayne's injury, Hilton would total 14 grabs for 251 yards and three scores.
Over the nine games without Reggie Wayne in the lineup, T.Y. Hilton caught fewer than five passes once. His average receptions per game catapulted to 6.1, while his yards per game average grew to about 75 yards. But most importantly and disregarded by fantasy owners in 2014, Hilton's final nine games saw 84 targets. After ranking 24th in targets with Wayne, Hilton ranked 12th in the league without him. This, my friends, is why T.Y. Hilton succeeded in fantasy football last year.
Entering 2014, Reggie Wayne is not only healthy, but so is tight end Dwayne Allen, who was targeted 66 times during his rookie campaign. And let's not forget the free agent signing of Hakeem Nicks, who will surely have a role in the offense if healthy.
In essence, T.Y. Hilton's 139-target season isn't happening in 2014. And even if it did, let's not overstate what the Colts' wideout accomplished as the only legitimate option in that offense last year. He still finished as just the 17th-best wideout in PPR formats over the league's final nine weeks, and despite catching so many passes, Hilton had just two weeks over this stretch where he finished as a top-24 wide receiver. Throughout the entire season, Hilton had as many top-24 weeks as Eddie Royal and Nate Washington.
And now folks are drafting him in Round 5? No thanks. I'll leave the weekly up-and-down, roller coaster wide receiving headache for another team in my league.
Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Minnesota Vikings
By Leo Howell
There's no more overrated player in fantasy football this summer than Cordarrelle Patterson.
A second-year player who only caught 45 passes for 469 yards as a rookie is being drafted in the first four rounds of fantasy drafts, and it's all based on a potential for a "breakout."
The main support for Patterson's rise in ADP is his "strong" second half last season, but according to our metrics, Patterson didn't actually improve over the course of the year, he simply got more opportunities. Patterson's Reception NEP per target was the same over the final eight weeks of the season as it was over the first eight weeks.
The Minnesota receiver did catch more passes during that time, becoming fantasy relevant, but he still only finished 38th out of 39 for the season in Reception NEP among wideouts with 75-125 targets. He was 37th on a per-target basis within that group.
Our current projections see Patterson outside of the top 30 at his position, and have him only scoring three touchdowns. With Kyle Rudolph, Greg Jennings and Adrian Peterson to compete with on a bottom-10 offense (based on last year's metrics), Patterson faces an uphill climb to catch enough passes and score enough touchdowns to merit his ADP as a team WR2, even if you believe he improved over the course of last season.
Chris Johnson, RB, New York Jets
By Joth Bhullar
Last year, Chris Johnson finished as a top-10 fantasy running back. This year, he's being severely overdrafted. Johnson’s high finish was largely a result of a watered-down running back pool that saw early draft picks significantly drop off in production. The truth is, last year saw Chris Johnson finish 14th in Rushing NEP among the 22 200-plus carry backs, and he was one of the worst among the group in per target pass-catching efficiency. He also only finished in the weekly top 24 at the running back position seven times last year despite finishing as a cumulative top-10 back - 18 running backs had more weekly usable finishes, and four more tied him with seven.
Johnson’s main fantasy asset has always been volume, topping 300 total touches for the last five years. Now, having to potentially split a backfield with Chris Ivory and even Bilal Powell, Johnson’s greatest value is gone.
In addition to the lack of volume, outside of long gainers, Johnson will likely struggle to produce touchdowns this year as reports out of Jets camp indicate that Ivory and Powell will likely handle goal line duties. Chris Johnson currently has an average draft position of 53, and is being drafted ahead of guys who are likely to see the bulk of their team's carries. It shouldn't surprise anyone to see Chris Ivory, who's currently going almost 90 picks later than Johnson, end up as the lead back in New York. I wouldn’t touch Chris Johnson unless his ADP tumbled another 30 slots, despite our projections seeing him as the 24th-best fantasy back this season.
Like T.Y. Hilton, be prepared for a weekly nightmare.
Montee Ball, RB, Denver Broncos
By Daniel Lindsey
Ok, I get it - all Broncos players offer a lot of value because of Peyton Manning. But while Manning elevates the play of players around him, it doesn’t mean you should be taking Montee Ball at the end of the first round and as the sixth running back off the board. Throwing 55 touchdowns was great and all, but the likelihood of that happening again is low.
Is Ball a breakout candidate? Probably. Has Ball performed well according to our Rushing NEP metrics? Very well. In fact, Ball contributed 18.44 points on the ground from Week 8 until the end of last season, one of the best totals in the league. But can Ball handle the volume? That remains to be seen, as the highest number of attempts he saw in a game last year was 15.
Ball could, in fact, take the place of Knowshon Moreno very easily as a workhorse-type of back. But it's harder to speculate about this second-year back compared to other second-year backs such as Eddie Lacy, LeVon Bell and Giovani Bernard. We’ve already seen what those three backs are capable of.
While I advocate getting a running back early, this is too early for a big unknown for me. The numberFire metrics place Ball as the ninth-best running back in standard formats, which seems pretty fair, but I still can’t draft him before the other sophomore runners. Then when I see proven names like Marshawn Lynch, Arian Foster, and DeMarco Murray going after Ball, I can’t watch. Ball is trending towards overrated in fantasy football for me this year.
Ben Tate, RB, Cleveland Browns
By AJ Weinberg
Our own JJ Zachariason wrote a piece on Ben Tate back in March, and Chad Dinkins wrote about Terrance West’s role in Cleveland earlier this month. Both of those features paint a less-than-stellar picture of Tate, and I’ll pull out some of the most significant reasons why I’m not a big fan of his in 2014, either.
First, he’s an injury nightmare. Tate's missed 24 games within his first four years in the league, and played games with broken ribs last season. Arian Foster’s injury paved the way for Tate to see big carries last year, and he failed to produce convincing numbers. While he was obviously playing hurt, his Net Expected Points numbers left much to be desired. Looking at a sample size of 13 backs who had between 150 and 200 carries last year (Tate had 181), his results were middling. His -10.35 Rushing NEP was sixth in the group, as was his -.07 Rushing NEP per rush. While these aren’t awful rankings, the players below him in that sample are guys you wouldn’t dream of touching in the early or middle rounds of drafts, like Bilal Powell and Bobby Rainey.
Additionally, Tate is a really bad pass-catcher. He had the worst Target NEP of any back in the league last season, as the Texans literally lost 12.28 expected points by targeting Tate in the passing game.
As Chad noted in his article, new Browns offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan likes to lean on one running back when he can. Given Tate's injury history and pretty mediocre talent, I wouldn’t be surprised if that back ends up being Terrance West.
That doesn’t sound like the kind of player I want in the fourth or fifth round.
Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos
By Billy Hepfinger
The inclusion of Peyton Manning on this list is no indictment of the wily veteran's Laser Rocket Arm (TM), but rather of the impossibly high expectations placed on Manning after leading the league in fantasy points last year. Ask any layman fantasy football owner who the first quarterback off the board should be, and chances are he'll say "Peyton Manning" without blinking an eye.
The problem is that he's got a lot of competition, and from guys who've been there before, too. Drew Brees put up similarly gaudy numbers last year - 5,162 passing yards, 39 touchdowns, and just 12 interceptions - and trailed Manning by only about 50 total points, per standard scoring. That's roughly four points per week. You also shouldn't forget about Aaron Rodgers, who missed eight games last season and still finished 21st among quarterbacks. And considering that Rodgers's and Brees' average draft positions (19.1 and 20.2, per FantasyFootballCalculator.com) are a full 10 and 11 picks later than Manning's (9.1), it's hard to justify reaching for the Sheriff.
Of course, this is all ignoring the fact that drafting a quarterback early in general is a counterproductive strategy. To get Peyton Manning, you're probably going to have to draft him well before the second round is over in normal leagues, which means passing up on drafting top wide receiver or running back talent.
I could continue on by talking about the way Denver's offense will change after losing Eric Decker, or about how much longer the 38-year-old can possibly keep this up, but to be honest, I don't really anticipate that either issue will bug Manning much. It's the architecture of fantasy football itself that's going to keep Peyton Manning from justifying his inevitably too-high draft position.
Vernon Davis, TE, San Francisco 49ers
By Mike O'Callaghan
Vernon Davis put up 850 yards and 13 scores last year. While that seem nice on the surface, it will be very difficult to repeat.
The best game of the season for Davis came in Week 6 against the Arizona Cardinals, where he hauled in 180 yards and a pair of touchdowns, a game that 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree was injured for. This accounted for 21% of Davis’ yardage for the whole season. He would not go on to see another multi-touchdown game, catch more than five passes, or record more than 100 yards after this contest. In fact, Davis went on to post two duds against the Panthers and Falcons when he totaled one combined catch for two yards.
With Crabtree in the lineup last year, Davis' per game receptions dropped by one, his targets by one-and-a-half and his yards by 17.
Anquan Boldin is somehow still producing, Crabtree is healthy, and the 49ers traded for wideout Steve Johnson over the off-season. Suddenly there are more options for Colin Kaepernick in that offense.
All signs are pointing to his production taking a hit across the board this year.
Lamar Miller, RB, Miami Dolphins
By Keith Black
Last year, Lamar Miller was the 21st back off the board (a starter in a 12-team league), going near the end of the third round. Miller’s 2013 proceeded to look like a total train wreck. Having a touch in every single game, Miller produced a meager two touchdowns all year (both before Week 5), and a grand total of four double-digit fantasy performances – Weeks 2 (12 points), 4 (12 points), 8 (10 points), and 9 (10 points).
Miller followed up his “breakout” Weeks 8 and 9 with the following fantasy point totals: 0, 3, 3, 8, 3, 6, 0. Amongst ball carriers with at least 160 carries last year (10 carries per game for 16 games), Miller ranked fourth from the bottom in Rushing NEP – ahead of Rashard Mendenhall, Trent Richardson, and Ray Rice. All three of those guys at least contributed in the passing game more than Miller did as well, as each of them had a higher Reception NEP total than Miller. (And in the case of Richardson, his Reception NEP was nearly 20 times higher than Miller’s.)
Yet, there’s discussion that this year will be different with new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor. While Miller may get a unique opportunity, he's still shown us nothing thus far in his career, and his seventh-round ADP is far too costly.